News Column

Oilfields May Be Fountain of Youth for Western Pennsylvania

June 28, 2014

By Brian Bowling, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Western Pennsylvania, oil boom

June 28--The oil and gas industry is attracting thousands of workers, largely young and male, to Western Pennsylvania, and that could drive changes in Allegheny County demographics -- as the Census Bureau says it has elsewhere.

Five Great Plains states became noticeably younger in 2013 when younger males sought work in oil and gas industries, the bureau said. The trend isn't yet showing in counties surrounding Allegheny where the industry is growing, so demographic experts and some industry officials question the theory.

David Passmore and Rose Baker, workforce development professors at Penn State University who study the Marcellus shale gas industry, said one problem is trying to connect job numbers, which aren't broken down by age, to the demographic numbers from the Census Bureau.

"It's quite possible that there may be an influx of males due to that, but it would be hard to (prove)," Passmore said.

Baker said data show the Marcellus shale industry has brought about 25,000 jobs, but many are not permanent jobs that would encourage people to relocate here.

"The ones that would be in the offices, those would be more permanent jobs," she said, noting some of her colleagues took such jobs in Morgantown, W.Va., and Allegheny County.

Zach Francis, 27, of Mt. Lebanon moved here last year from Morgantown, W.Va., to take a job with Range Resources scheduling the movement of ethane through pipelines to the company's customers.

"There's a lot of opportunity," Francis said. "There's a lot of room for growth." A Bridgeport, W.Va., native and St. Vincent College graduate, Francis said he was familiar with the area and its busy cultural life and picked Mt. Lebanon, "mainly because I knew it was a great community for me to live in. I was looking for something comparable to what I grew up around."

The census figures released on Thursday come from its population estimates program that relies on birth and death records. The agency takes into account the fact that someone who was 24 in the 2010 Census would be 28 and utilizes migration data from Internal Revenue Service and Medicare records.

The county-level estimates show the median age for males in Allegheny dropped from 39.1 years in 2012 to 38.9 years in 2013; the median age for females was constant at 43.1 years. Median ages in other Western Pennsylvania counties increased or held steady.

Nationally, the median age increased from 37.5 years to 37.6 years.

A February report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Allegheny County had the second-highest growth in oil and gas jobs in the state, next to Lycoming County.

Indiana County was the only other county in Western Pennsylvania with significant growth.

Drilling probably isn't making the region younger because most workers in drill crews don't change residences, said Daniel Donahue, president of Indiana County-based Falcon Drilling.

He expanded the company from 100 employees when he bought it in 2011 to 325 employees, but the drillers come from all over and typically live in hotels for the two weeks they're on a job site, said Donahue, 35, of Fox Chapel.

"The guys we're hiring, they don't come to Indiana," he said.

Drilling crews usually don't live where they're drilling because those jobs are temporary, but drilling brings some permanent jobs, said Matt Pitzarella of Range Resources Corp.

The Cecil headquarters for the Fort Worth, Texas, company's Marcellus shale operations employs about 500 people directly and about 6,000 people through subcontractors and service companies. Most live in Washington and Allegheny counties, Pitzarella said.

"For Range specifically, it's almost all South Hills," he said.

Direct employees include engineers and geoscientists, and almost half are younger than 27, he said. Though an increasing number of women are getting degrees in those fields, most workers are men, he said.

"We've clearly helped our region become younger, but as you know, there are large trends in this region that no one industry can reverse overnight," he said.

Donahue, a Squirrel Hill native, said he thinks overall economic development is helping Allegheny County to get younger.

"I just think that we're doing a better job of advertising Pittsburgh," he said.

That's a plausible explanation, said Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research.

The county recorded a decline in its oldest residents and an increase in college enrollments, he said. For the past few years, its economy fared better than many metro areas and unemployment stayed below the national average.

"That's telling you something about where the relative job opportunities are and that we're pulling people into the region," he said.

Those people tend to be younger adults, Briem said: "People in their 20s move for a job."

Brian Bowling is a Total Trib Media staff writer. Contact him at 412-325-4301 at


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Original headline: Oilfields may be fountain of youth for Western Pa.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)

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